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The designer of Kikkoman’s beautiful, ubiquitous soy sauce bottle has died

Kikkoman Corp.
Pour one out.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The legendary Japanese industrial designer Kenji Ekuan died today at the age of 85 in a Tokyo hospital, as a result of a heart rhythm disorder. Ekuan, who founded his company GK Industrial Design in post-war Japan in hopes of helping to rebuild his country, is best known for the Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser. Designed in 1961, the bottle’s elegant hourglass silhouette, simple lettering, and bright red plastic cap speak to the defining features of Ekuan’s work: elegance and utility. More than 300 million have been sold.

Ekuan said in an interview in 2010, “Just like a man is born, and becomes old, ill and dies…even in a factory things are born, they have very useful years, and then finally die. It’s all the same.”

Aside from the soy sauce bottle, Ekuan also designed bullet trains, Yamaha motorcycles, whimsical indoor gardens, and more. He was also the author of a book that examines how the Japanese bento box is a metaphor for the Japanese archipelago and key to understanding Japanese civilization. Here is some of his other work:

GK Design Group
Yamaha motorcycles on display at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum in November.
GK Design Group
Artificial flowers on display at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum.
GK Design Group
A train car model on display at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum.

“Regardless of what the object of design is, humans need design,”Ekuan said in an interview in 2007. “For anything humans use in their day to day life, they need design and it is a clear and concrete proof of the fundamental human right to live.”

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